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Hardball With Chris Matthews

News/Business. Leaders and newsmakers debate political issues. (CC)

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Obama 4, John Harris 4, Washington 4, Dan 3, John 3, Scott Brown 3, Massachusetts 2, Iraq 2, George Stephanopoulos 2, Dan Balz 2, Obama Administration 2, Angriest 1, Congress 1, Unattainable 1, United States 1, Claire Mccaskill 1, Dan Baltz 1, Robert Gibbs 1, Bush 1, Us 1,
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  MSNBC    Hardball With Chris Matthews    News/Business. Leaders and  
   newsmakers debate political issues. (CC)  

    January 21, 2010
    7:00 - 7:09pm EST  

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is that so with progressives? a big ruling from the supreme court today, the government may not ban political spending by corporations for candidates. who do you think likes that decision? could it be the folks who just love the corporations and what corporations want? let's begin with the start of president obama's second year. with me now, dan baltz of the "washington post." also, the politico's john harris. an honor to have both of you here tonight. the big question is, what is the president's predicament, john harris, and the same question to dan, what is his predicament now as you size it up politically? john? >> his predicament was a year ago, he said he was going to do big things and he challenged in his inaugural address that big things couldn't happen. he said the ground shifted on him. and we have to say a year later the ground has shifted on obama. the big bang he was going to come out with as his governing strategy in the first year has not come to fruition. he's a year in office and he doesn't have that sort of major policy achievement. he's got some things he points to as successes, but he clearly has not executed the big bang.
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and in the post-massachusetts landscape, those things are going to be harder, they are going to be more unattainable. what he's in need of is a political strategy now that the old strategy has failed. >> let me go to dan on that. do you believe the fact, it seems it's manifest he hasn't done the big thing yet, at least not that anybody can see, is it also true the public doesn't want the big thing right now in terms of liberal legislation? >> chris, a year ago i asked him the question about what the '08 election really meant, did it bring an end to the reagan era? he said not necessarily, that there was still a skepticism toward top-down command and control kind of government. he thought that was a lasting legacy. he said the challenge for him was to demonstrate smart and effective government, whether it was big or small. i think that's still the question he's still trying to convince people he has an answer to. and after a year of his administration, there is a great deal of skepticism on the public's part that he's found the right answer. >> well, the big question, john,
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now, is how does he scale down or reset the button? the problem, i thought claire mccaskill from missouri handled it very well. she said, you can't have just insurance reform, health care reform, like no preexisting conditions, without some sort of individual mandate that requires healthy young people to join and pay for part of the cost of insurance. and you can't get that requirement, the individual mandate, unless you have some kind of subsidy. she said nobody wanted a really big bill, but you're stuck with it. is there any way he can peel the onion here and get down to something that's hard and sellable? >> i don't think, chris, they have the answer to that question yet. that's why what you've seen robert gibbs today saying, look, we're just going to take a deep breath. they're not even coming out with a timeline for when they're going to unveil what their next step option is. i think they figure, if everybody -- democrats can calm down, from the first blush immediate reactions of scott brown winning massachusetts, then they can get together and
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answer that question, well, is there something that would be not everything we want, but would be incremental and also saleable in both the senate and the house? >> maybe they should stay in the crisis mode. crisis mode. i think they may get clearer thinking, myself. don't calm down too much, guys. let's look, dan, and respond to this. here's president obama on abc's george stephanopoulos on the meaning of scott brown's victory. here's his political take. >> the same thing that swept scott brown into office swept me into office. people are angry and they're frustrated. >> i don't know. what do you think of that? is it the same thing? i thought what swept him into office was dislike for the war in iraq, dislike of president bush, the desire for change. but i'm not sure what else. but what's that got to do with this anger in massachusetts we saw this week, that somehow focused itself, coalesced around this guy in a truck? somehow, a truck -- guy that drives a truck suggested he's on our side.
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doesn't sound like obama to me. your thoughts, dan? >> chris, i mean, the anger is certainly of a different nature. the anger in 2006 and 2007 and 2008 that we saw was an anger coming from the left in the grassroots aimed at, as you said, the bush administration, particularly its policies on iraq. there were other factors. and as we got closer to the election, certain economic anxiety was part of this. what we're seeing now is anger from the right. it is a response to the conservatives' view that the obama administration and the democrats in congress are trying to do too much government at once. and it is a revulsion against that that we've seen. those in the center, at this point, have gone away from the democrats, toward the republicans. they are the battle that we watch get waged for the rest of this year. but those types of angers are certainly different. and i think he was wrong to equate them as one in the same. >> let me go to john harris on that question. if the president wants to
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retool, is there any clear indication he should retool toward the middle or toward the left? any clear indication or consensus in the white house you can report on that big question? >> well, the first reaction is that they do -- we see it in the rhetoric, they do feel they need to stand up against corporate interests and strike a more populist note. that's their way of responding to the economic anxiety. the most effective presidents, when they're most effective, manage to both unite their base and the middle. and i think dan had it exactly right. what the middle is looking for is a clear sign of effectiveness, confidence in government. that's what they want from this administration. what the left wants is that, but they also want a clear sense that obama stands with them and won't compromise on their top policies. so, that's a very difficult act to balance. >> chris, i would say one other thing related to that. and that is certainly john's right, that the white house has decided that a more populist
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attack, a more populist message is what they need to do partly to draw contrast with the republicans and try to identify themselves as being on the side with the public. one of the things we're seeing though is that the public is certainly angry at the banks, but they're angry at the banks, in part, because they feel much more has been done for the banks and not enough for them. so, i think the question for the obama administration is not simply how do you go after the banks or the insurance companies. it's how do you deliver something to ordinary people that they feel is for them? >> here's the question for both of you. and i guess i'm listening to both of you and hearing both. the people who decide these elections in the middle, are they angrier at government for taxes dead, too much in their face economically, too much burden on them like through health care, or angry at the big shots on wall street? john, who are they angriest at? >> i do think for the people in the middle, it's a free-floating range. but their feet at the moment
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right now is that washington is out of control. that they don't have a remedy to the serious problems. that they're spending too much to no effect. if they're mad at washington, that means for now they're mad at democrats in congress, and in -- and president obama. that doesn't mean they like republicans, but democrats are the object of their anger. >> let's look at the president. here he is again with george stephanopoulos on the latest on his first year. >> one thing that i regret this year is that we were so busy just getting stuff done, and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that i think we lost some of that sense of, you know, speaking directly to the american people about what their core values are. and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values. and that i do think is a mistake of mine.
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>> i don't know what that means. dan balz, i don't know what they meant by that. that left me cold. what did he mean? >> well, chris, i'm not quite sure exactly what he meant. one is, i would say it gives too little credit to the american people for being able to sort of watch and come to conclusions on their own. certainly we know that nobody has a bigger megaphone than the white house and the president of the united states. he has the ability to communicate very powerfully as we saw during the campaign. i think it has more to do certainly with just the general economic conditions that people are facing. the struggles that people are going through, if they've lost a job or worried about losing a job, or they've lost a home. and the question of what is being done for them, how soon is this going to turn around in a much more significant way? >> it sounds like the president has a plan to go after the big shots on wall street. we'll see if that turning of anger in wall street and away from washington will work for him. thank you very much. i've got heavyweights here. dan balz of the "washington post" and john harris, author of "survivor: the great book of bill clinton."

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